The first report regarding the dam failure at the Mount Polley mine will be released on Jan. 30 and it is expected to lead to new safety standards for the entire Canadian mining industry.
The Globe and Mail reported that this report will focus on the cause of the disaster that released millions of cubic metres of waste material into Quesnel Lake and other waterways in central British Columbia, while other reports, still in the works, will determine blame and consequences for the dam failure.
The report’s findings could pave the way for the partial reopening of the copper and gold mine 55 km northeast of Williams Lake.
A report by the Chief Inspector of Mines and the second by the Conservation Officer Service, a law-enforcement body, will determine fines and punishment and will send any recommendations for charges to provincial Crown Counsel.
The results of those probes could be months away, and officials from the Ministry of Mines said a decision on the application to resume operations at Mount Polley is expected by mid-March. “Any findings or recommendations made by the panel may help to inform the review process,” ministry spokesman David Haslam said.
Opposition leader John Horgan said the government sought to inoculate itself against criticism it may face as a result of this week’s report by announcing more funds to beef up mine inspections. “The Premier is trying to get out ahead of this damaging report because it was her government that made deep cuts to inspections and monitoring in the first place,” he said. He said he will be looking for evidence that those cutbacks to inspections at Mount Polley contributed to the failure.
Mines Minister Bill Bennett said the report should provide recommendations to improve mining safety after the “shocking incident that should not have happened.” The Mount Polley incident has put a spotlight on the province’s role in regulating and inspecting mines, which has hampered his government’s efforts to expand mining as a key plank in its jobs agenda.
Pierre Gratton, president of the Mining Association of Canada, said he expects recommendations on Friday that will require action by industry across the country. “We need to know if this was preventable. We all want to see the report and if it has anything to do with management systems, we at [the mining association] have a lot of work to do. And we’re ready for it.”
The earthen dam collapsed on Aug. 4, leaving a massive, V-shaped gap, 150 metres wide at the narrowest point. The initial breach sent about 17 million cubic metres of water and eight million cubic metres of tailings into Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake, and the company is still working to repair the dam before the spring thaw brings millions of cubic metres of water flooding through the site.
Steve Robertson, a spokesman for Imperial Mines Corp., which owns Mount Polley, said the company submitted the findings of its own geotechnical report to explain the failure to the independent panel. “Our submission was quite thorough in its descriptions of the characteristics of the failure.” However, he would not comment on the possible conclusions of the panel.